Volkswagen to Dealers: Build Or Die. Again.
Red – or make that white alert! Volkswagen is planning another attack on the profitability of its dealers. They need to build yet another round of brand new showrooms. In 1995, VeeDub introduced the new architecture for their worldwide dealer network. First, a prototype was built on the grounds of the Volkswagen plant in Wolfsburg. (Embarrassingly, without some necessary permits, an oversight that was quickly fixed.) Then, “one of the largest construction projects in Volkswagen’s history was started” (says so in a book that documented that gigantic project). More than 10k VeeDub dealerships worldwide had to follow the architectural edict from Wolfsburg: “build or die.” Many dealers did both; they couldn’t stomach the high costs associated with the glass and marble palaces, and vanished. Not to be outdone, Audi started their own, totally different concept, throwing dealers further in the poorhouse, and delighting the construction trade worldwide. Now, after more than 10 years of hard work, threats and scores of dealers who made the ultimate sacrifice by bleeding to death on the altar of Corporate Identity, most VeeDub dealers, from Wolfsburg to Winnipeg, from Bratislava to Boise, Idaho, look alike. All, except one…
The good folks of Autohaus, an industry rag that chronicles the life and death of Germany’s auto trade, found a construction site in Haiger, halfway between Frankfurt and Dortmund on the A45 Autobahn. There, the next mausoleum for Volkswagen’s remaining dealers is being erected. Yes, it’s true: now that all Volkswagen dealers have moved into new digs, they will need to build new ones.
The first one is the Thielmann dealership in Haiger. End of the year, the new pilot dealership shall be ready for move-in. Following that, VeeDub dealers worldwide better talk to their banks, and think-– again– of building palaces instead of market share. Soon to be experienced in a VeeDub dealership near you, the new concept will be totally different from the old one. A lot of white, straight lines, Bauhaus for the Autohaus. As if created by Gropius the Great, this architecture would be right at home on the dunes of the Hamptons, maybe anno 1970-80. It should last for another eternity, or the 12 – 20 year cycles of the typical Volkswagen architectural concept. Once all VeeDub dealers will be white on the faces of their buildings, a new trend will emerge. Pointillism, next time?
The new one may even be shorter-lived. In the halls of Wolfsburg, there are whispers that the Whites Only concept was born under the tutelage of Wolfgang Bernhard, the disgraced Volkswagen boss, who, after a short tenure at Cerberus/Chrysler, now emerged on the board of the likewise near insolvent Austrian Airlines.
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VW has its niche nailed down in North America. It's a premium sophisticated European car brand for people who are willing to pay a bit extra for European feel but not too much to get the whole package in a BMW or an Audi. I live in a major metropolitan center and there is no shortage of new VWs everywhere, Jettas above all. On the other hand having driven about 1000 miles last week in poorer rural areas I hardly saw any VWs (or any other Europea cars for that matter). The issue for VW in North America is reliability and service. I believe there are countless Canuckleheads out there who would love to buy another VW but not at the expense of getting stuck with numerous problems for years to come. And with a poor dealer service to boot. But I guess it's easier to decree the new dealer digs than fix the manufacturing problems.
I have to say that my 2008 GTI, bought new 10 months ago, has not had any major problems in the 10,XXX miles I have driven it so far. So quality may have improved, considering what I hear from past owners. I've never owned a VW before, but compared to my last car, a Cooper S, this thing is as reliable as the sun coming up in the morning. The only issue I had was with the I-Pod adapter conking out at about 5K miles. It was replaced and works fine now. No other issues to report. The dealer I bought from had a nice-looking building, looks like it was made in the last 5 to 10 years. I see no reason to have to rebuild, unless, of course the place was some kind of rathole that was falling apart. Seems like a waste of money to me. And for what? To have dealerships look as completely [s]sterile[/s] minimalist as possible?